Day 100 / 22 December 2014
Should there be a drumroll at this stage, or a quiet slipping, like I said, from one day to another? It could be either, and neither feels quite right, and day 100 is not a summary of days, and you can’t bring one hundred days together with words, so that they mean something.
Eleni told me a story that made me laugh. It was about her brother-in-law, John, who, upon tasting his first sugared kumquat, apparently commented: “It is like making love for the first time. You don’t really understand what’s happening to you.” It made me laugh, and then it made me think: about love and making love and the things we don’t really understand.
My first time wasn’t like a kumquat. It was a strange experience but, looking back, kind of tasteless. The act took place at a house party, an hour out of town, in the early summer of 1994; a bunch of us were staying overnight, unsupervised. This was a couple of weeks past my sixteenth birthday, and my boyfriend and I had just celebrated our three-month anniversary. The stars didn’t line up to bring us together in sweet, if awkward, lovemaking on a mild June evening that we would both remember fondly. It was coldly understood that this would be the night. It was about opportunity and the dispatching of a task. So much for the romantic dreams of teenage girls; so much for the endless lines of poetry this teenage girl had written for other, earlier loves. There was no poetry in this, and no romance. I liked the boy well enough and we had called it love. But the truth was a cold one: I just wanted the thing over with and I remember it, if anything, with shame.
And so it was, a task performed, awkwardly and quickly, on one of two twin beds we had been allocated for the night. I knew what was happening to me; I knew the mechanics of the act and what to expect, and my expectations were met by a mechanical act. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t hurt, as advertised; I grieved a little for the drama that wasn’t there. A trip to the bathroom yielded a single smudge of blood, a private hanging of the wedding sheets. I flushed the tissue down the toilet, returned to the bedroom to get dressed, and went to join my friends, in other rooms, leaving my boyfriend, used up, still and silent on the bed. We both knew what had happened, what we’d done, but neither of us understood. Neither of us said a word.
He was gone when I returned, out in town with the boys, and I was relieved. This was a private thing, and he was no longer part of it. I found my walkman and crawled into a hammock in the garden and swung, back and forth, all night, listening to a song on repeat. The song was called Thanatos: death. I had been cold on this warm summer evening; I had gotten rid of my virginity and my boyfriend by a single act, and I felt nothing. But I thought I understood that love hurts, and in the absence of love I chose the hurt, and a song called Death with beautiful, heartbreaking lyrics to fill the gaps where poetry should have been.
There has been love since, and poetry, and lovemaking that hurt in the ways that it should and didn’t need a soundtrack, and I still don’t really understand. I can’t speak for kumquats, but I don’t think lovemaking is meant to be understood. There have been times when I have stopped, midway, to say “What is this? What is happening?”, and those are the times I will remember. Wonder, bafflement, awe: that’s how you know something extraordinary is happening to you. It will be a terrible day, a day of mourning, when such a thing as love can be understood.
I think I understand now that I was mourning something on that night in June. The passing, maybe, of the teenage girl whose poetry amounted to nothing, the girl who thought a mechanical act could be transformed into something meaningful just because you call it love. But I think I learned something, too, about the absence of love; I learned it, on that night, as I swung in a hammock with a song called Death on repeat, but it took me twenty years to understand.
You might get lucky and throw kumquats and love and poetry and death together and make some kind of sense, but you can’t bring one hundred days together with words. And day 100 is not a summary of days, and it isn’t the day that love was understood. But I think I understand, finally, about its absence: you can do things without love. But if you live your life mechanically, performing acts and dispatching tasks in cold understanding, you leave no room for poetry or bafflement or awe. You can’t transform that into something meaningful just because you call it a life. You’ve gotta put in the things you love and leave gaps that ache and need to be filled up with some sort of poetry, whatever stands for poetry in your life. You can do things without love, but they’ll amount to nothing, and you will remember them with shame, if you remember them at all. That’s what I learned in that hammock, and it took twenty years and one hundred days of doing what I love to understand.
And day 100 is not a summary of days. Maybe it’s like a kumquat; like I’ve tasted something I cannot quite describe, but want to taste again. It’s like one of those times that I’ll remember, and I’m lying here, naked and aching and a little out of breath, and I’m thinking “What just happened?” and I don’t really understand. But there is wonder and bafflement and awe and scattered lines of poetry trying to put into words what you cannot, and I know it was something extraordinary. And it’s like that first time, too, a thing completed as I expected it would, and my sheets hung up and flapping in the wind for everyone to see, one hundred days of word-stained sheets to prove it, and nothing to show for it in private but a smudge of blood and a sense of mourning. Day 100 is both: it’s both a drumroll and a quiet slipping into something else, the day after, whatever comes next.
Or maybe it’s a drumroll to distract you, so I can slip away, quietly, out of sight, and mourn it a little, in private, the end of a hundred days, and celebrate it, too, because I did it, for love. And then I’ll sit alone, in a solitude no longer shared, and think about love and making love and all the things that I don’t understand. All the things that I cannot put into words, and will keep trying, regardless, for all of my days, because this is what I love. This is what comes next. This is what I call a life. It baffles the hell out of me, and it has a weird soundtrack, but it’s extraordinary.
This is Day 100, the final day of 100 days of solitude, written on December 22, 2014. You can buy 100 days of solitude on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle, or read it for free with Kindle Unlimited or Prime Reading (US).